A sustainability specialist could...
|Reduce a corporation's carbon output by ensuring that a company's fleet of cars be electric vehicles.||Organize environmental volunteer activities, like a beach cleaning day, for employees company-wide.|
|Save millions of dollars in operating costs by reducing the water and electricity needed to run a factory.||Redesign a company's production line using recyclable materials for all of its packaging.|
Key Facts & Information
|Overview||Are you passionate about the environment? Do you like developing and implementing new ideas? Do you enjoy talking with people about how humans impact nature? If these things are true about you, then you may be the ideal candidate for a job as a sustainability specialist. Sustainability specialists work in large and small corporations and universities to design and execute energy and resource conservation programs that reduce their employers' impact on the environment. This is a great career for people who enjoy working on teams, are socially responsible, and like to get things done!|
|Key Requirements||Passion for environmental issues, good teamwork skills, ability to manage and direct teams, diplomatic personality, excellent public-speaking and problem-solving skills|
|Minimum Degree||Bachelor's degree|
|Subjects to Study in High School||Environmental science, biology, chemistry, algebra, geometry; if available, statistics, public speaking|
|Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)||More Slowly than Average (3% to 6%) In Demand!|
Training, Other Qualifications
In addition to a scientific background in environmental science or engineering, employers sometimes look for LEED (or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) accreditation. The credentialing is administered by the Green Building Certification Institute under the supervision of the U.S. Green Building Council. There are several types of certification, depending on what students plan to do in their careers. However, credentialing involves coursework, working on green building projects, and taking an exam. To learn more, check out the U.S. Green Building Council website.
Education and Training
The minimum degree required for entry-level sustainability specialists is a bachelor's degree in environmental sciences, environmental engineering, or a related field. While a graduate degree is not required for entry-level positions, many employers find it desirable, because students with graduate-school experience have the opportunity to work in-depth on sustainability projects.
Classes or work experience in marketing, finance, and business are also valuable for job placement as a sustainability specialist.
Nature of the Work
Sustainability specialists support and implement programs that focus on improving the environment, saving money for their employer, and helping their local community. They conduct research and analysis and identify opportunities for new programs as well as improvements in current programs. Sustainability programs include monitoring and improving energy and natural resource usage, waste-generation management, recycling, water-usage reduction, and assessing carbon footprint. Once enough information has been compiled from these programs, the sustainability specialist will report on progress and act on the information. As part of educating and informing their employers and clients, they must promote and advertise their environmental programs.
Sustainability specialists assist in strategic policy planning. In corporate settings they are part of the team that develops the corporate social responsibility (or CSR) document. This document describes how a company will operate in a business setting while being mindful of the social impacts of their actions. When working with clients in a corporate setting, they must prepare action plans to improve the sustainability of the clients' products and operations. They must know how to perform product and market analysis in order to understand what the clients' customers want. To do their job effectively, sustainability specialists must be familiar with relevant energy and environmental legislation.
Sustainability specialists work on a variety of projects and can manage teams where the members come from a variety of disciplines. They can be part of a team that works on greening buildings; as such, they must have experience with various "green" practices and standards, including: Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (or LEED), ISO 14001 (an international standard that specifies a method for controlling and improving a company's environmental performance), or the EPA's Environmental Management System.
Most sustainability specialists work in office buildings, laboratories, or industrial plants. They may spend time outdoors, where they monitor or direct operations, or solve on-site problems.
On the Job
- Develop sustainability project goals, objectives, initiatives, or strategies in collaboration with other sustainability professionals.
- Monitor or track sustainability indicators, such as energy and natural-resource usage, waste generation, and recycling.
- Assess or propose sustainability initiatives, considering factors such as cost effectiveness, technical feasibility, and acceptance.
- Collect information about waste-stream management or green building practices to inform decision-makers.
- Create marketing or outreach media, such as brochures or websites, to communicate sustainability issues, procedures, or objectives.
- Create or maintain plans or other documents related to sustainability projects.
- Develop reports or presentations to communicate the effectiveness of sustainability initiatives.
- Identify or procure needed resources to implement sustainability programs or projects.
- Provide technical or administrative support for sustainability programs or issues.
- Write grant applications, rebate applications, or project proposals to secure funding for sustainability projects.
- Identify or create new sustainability indicators.
- Identify or investigate violations of natural-resource use, waste management, recycling, or other environmental policies.
- Research or review regulatory, technical, or market issues related to sustainability.
- Review and revise sustainability proposals or policies.
Companies That Hire Sustainability Specialists
Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...
- A Bright Idea for Saving Energy
- Alternative Sources for Paper Fiber
- Burning Biofuels: Comparing Nonrenewable and Renewable Fuels
- Can the Color of Your House Reduce Your Energy Footprint?
- Crank Up the Music!
- Disappearing Act: How Fast Do Different Biodegradable & Compostable Materials Decompose?
- Ecological Footprint Analysis
- Feel Free to Sleep at School... If You're a Computer!
- Fish Markets and Sustainability
- Follow the Flow
- Free Lunch? Can Solar Energy Systems Pay for Themselves with Utility Bill Savings?
- Get Rid of Those Leftovers: How Much Organic Waste Can Composting Worms Eat?
- Green Technology: Build an Electronic Soil Moisture Sensor to Conserve Water
- Household Water Usage
- How Can Your Faucet Save Water?
- Human-Powered Energy
- Renewable Energy Resources
- Smart Watering: Adjusting Your Sprinklers for Optimal Soil Moisture
- Uh-oh! What Do We Do With Our E-waste?
- What Electric Bills Can Tell You About Energy Use
Do you have a specific question about a career as a Sustainability Specialist that isn't answered on this page? Post your question on the Science Buddies Ask an Expert Forum.
These organizations can provide you with more information about the field of sustainability:
- O*Net Online. (2016). National Center for O*Net Development. Retrieved July 1, 2017, from https://www.onetonline.org/
- Earth Savers Institute. (2009, December 26). What is a Sustainability Specialist. Retrieved August 18, 2010, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-fmev5GFd80
- Barnes, N. (2009, March 13). AASHE Interview Series: Fahmida Ahmed, Sustainability Programs Manager, Stanford University. Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education: Campus Sustainability Perspectives Blog. Retrieved August 17, 2010, from http://www.aashe.org/blog/aashe-interview-series-fahmida-ahmed-sustainability-programs-manager-stanford-university
- Barnes, N. (2009, November 6). AASHE Interview Series: Tim Galarneau, Food Systems Education & Research Program Specialist, University of California, Santa Cruz. Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education: Campus Sustainability Perspectives Blog. Retrieved August 17, 2010, from http://www.aashe.org/blog/aashe-interview-series-tim-galarneau-food-systems-education-research-program-specialist-univers
- WKUNews. (2008, August 28). WKU Sustainability Coordinator. Retrieved August 17, 2010, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B19GNVygPAw=related
- University of Notre Dame. (2008, September 3). Sustainability in Action — Engineering a Greener National Park. Retrieved September 17, 2010, from http://video.nd.edu/65-indiana-dunes
We'd like to acknowledge the additional support of:
- Intel Foundation
- Symantec Foundation